I don’t know that a sport or hobby exists (unless you consider sleeping a hobby) that does not benefit from an increased level of core strength and control. A strong core not only provides your body with stability and control during physical activity, but it also will make you more comfortable whether you are standing or sitting all day long. Your core consists of several muscle groups all designed to support your torso and the structures within it. It’s these muscles that help support your spine and your internal organs. The stronger and more conditioned your core is, the less likely you are to have back problems related to either injury or fatigue. For example, many people do not know that sitting actually increased the pressure on your spine 11 times more than standing, which only increases the pressure on your spine 6 times more than laying down. That seems backwards right? The reason is because when you stand, your core is automatically engaged, this is also why many people experience back soreness or fatigue from standing for a long period of time.
So how do we develop our core so we’re protecting ourselves and also maximizing athletic potential? There’s TONS of options, but I’ll start with a couple of basic exercises that are good for everybody. The plank and the Superman. These exercises work our muscles isometrically, which means they require your muscle to hold a contraction for a particular period of time. I like using exercises like these for my clients because your core’s main function involves isometric muscle contraction. These exercises both strengthen and improve the endurance of your core muscles, while still being very scalable for those who need to modify the exercise.
To do a plank, first take up a position belly down on the floor or a mat. You can either prop up your upper body on your elbows or hands, taking care to keep your upper arms perpendicular to the ground and under your shoulders. You can support your lower body either on your toes (for a full plank) or your knees (for a modified plank). Your body from your head to your knees or toes should create a perfectly straight line when viewed from the side. Try to hold this position for as long as you can, I usually ask my clients to aim for 30 seconds when they first start out and work them up to a full plank for a minute or longer. This exercise works on your abdominal muscles as well as the spinal extensors on either side of your spine. It can be done every day, but I recommend doing it 5 days a week. It’s a great exercise to do during commercial breaks of your favorite show!
A superman is a very similar exercise, but it is more back-focused. Take up a belly-down position on the floor or a mat then lift your arms and legs up off the ground as high as you can and hold it for a period of time. If you need to modify the exercise, then I recommend lifting opposite arms and legs off the ground at the same time, while resting the remaining arm and leg. For example, lifting the right arm and left leg for a time, then switching to the left arm and right leg. Once again, I start my clients at 30 seconds and work them up to a full superman for one minute or more 5 days a week.
Stretching is also very important for maintain a healthy and strong core. For this I like to use the Cat and Cow poses from yoga, as well as a standing or sitting hamstring stretch. For the Cat pose, take up a position on all fours on a mat or the floor and lift your back with your chin tucked as much as you can while remaining comfortable, you should feel a stretch all along your back. From that position, move to the Cow pose by arching your back and lifting your chin. You can alternate between these two exercises taking 15 to 30 seconds in each one. A standing or sitting hamstring stretch involves either standing up, or sitting on the ground with your legs straight and together. Slowly reach forward or down to touch your toes. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds, as that is when your muscles start to relax within a stretch. Do not push yourself to the point where the stretch is sharply painful, it should only feel tight but not uncomfortable. With patience, you will start to feel your muscles relax and stretch. If you feel dizzy during the standing hamstring stretch, stop the stretch and try it sitting.
I hope this helps you start your journey towards a strong and comfortable core! Don’t forget, if you want more personalized workouts, click the Contact Me button on the Personal Training page!